04 November 2022

Sanctuary of God


In his letters, the Apostle Paul applies Temple language to the church of Jesus Christ, the Sanctuary of God.

Church illuminated - Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash
Paul consistently refers to the church as the “
sanctuary of God,” and he also applies related terms to congregations that applied originally in the Hebrew Bible to the Tabernacle and Temple. While the language is metaphorical, it describes the new realities and the identity of God's people since the death and resurrection of Jesus - [Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash].

In his writings, the English term “sanctuary of God” translates the Greek clause ton naon tou theou. And in this clause, the noun naos means “sanctuary.” In biblical Greek, most often it refers to the inner sanctum, the sanctuary proper, and not to the entire Temple complex.

NAOS


Paul applies the term to the church four times in his two letters to the Corinthians, and once uses the noun naos by itself in Ephesians for the assembly that is now comprised of Jewish and Gentile believers:

  • (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) – “Do you not know that you are a SANCTUARY OF GOD and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defiles the SANCTUARY OF GOD, him shall God destroy; for the SANCTUARY OF GOD is holy, and such are you. – (See also 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16).
  • (Ephesians 2:19-22) – “So then you are no more strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, is growing into a HOLY SANCTUARY IN THE LORD; in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

And in the passage in his letter to the Ephesians, once again the language is metaphorical, and Paul mixes his metaphors.

The church consists of people that are not made of stones or goatskins. And tents and stone buildings do not “grow,” at least, not organically.  But none of this means that the language is not serious or does not describe genuine realities.

The church is the “sanctuary” of God because, like the ancient Tabernacle and Temple, it is where the presence of God dwells (“habitation of God in the Spirit”). And it is His presence that makes the church “holy,” and therefore, something not to be violated, sullied, disrespected, or otherwise desecrated.

SANCTUARY IS HOLY


The language about preserving the holiness of the “sanctuary” and the punishment that awaits anyone who “defiles” it reflects the purity regulations for the Tabernacle from the Torah. For example:

  • (Numbers 19:20) – “But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly BECAUSE HE HAS DEFILED THE SANCTUARY OF YAHWEH.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is quite explicit:

  • And what concord has Christ with Belial, or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the SANCTUARY OF GOD with idols? For we are a SANCTUARY OF THE LIVING GOD; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and I will walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – (2 Corinthians 6:15-17).

He is summoning the Corinthians to holiness by learning to remain “separate” from sin and idolatry. As before, he identifies the church as the “sanctuary of God,” the place where He dwells. To fortify his point, Paul cites two passages from the Old Testament:

  • (Leviticus 26:11-12) – “And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
  • (Jeremiah 31:33) – “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Previously, Paul linked the “Spirit” to the presence of God that now dwells in the assembly. The gift of the Spirit demonstrates that God is dwelling among His people, and collectively, they constitute the “sanctuary of God” in the present age.

Thus, Paul identifies the church as the “sanctuary of God,” and that identification is built on promises from the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, as he taught elsewhere, the institutions of the old covenant constitute “types” and “shadows” of the true realities that Jesus has actualized in the New Covenant - (Colossians 2:16-17).

The Tabernacle and Temple foreshadowed the greater reality when God would indwell His people. And wherever the church is gathered for worship, the Spirit of God is present.



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